Drone maker DJI said it is developing a “local data mode” that prevents its flight-control apps from transmitting or receiving data from or about a drone flight. The move is intended to help commercial and government users ensure that sensitive information about their drone flights, including audio and video as well as data about flight paths, is not compromised.
Data privacy for drone pilots has been a talking point for some time. Last year, DJI issued a statement insisting that customer information, including video footage, was not shared with Chinese authorities, despite an apparent comment to the contrary by a “junior staffer.” And earlier this year the company proposed an identification framework that would us radio transmitters to allow U.S. government officials to identify drone owners.
But news of the new local data mode didn’t break until after the U.S. Army issued instructions earlier this month directing users to stop using all DJI products, citing unspecified “cyber vulnerabilities.” It’s unclear whether the introduction of local data mode by itself will be enough to compel the Army to once again OK DJI flights.
“We are creating local data mode to address the needs of our enterprise customers, including public and private organizations that are using DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world,” said DJI VP of Policy and Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman in a prepared statement. “Local data mode will allow customers to get the most out of their DJI flight control apps while providing added assurance that critical data is not inadvertently transmitted over the internet.”
While local data mode will prevent data from being shared with anyone over the Internet, DJI said, it will also block the receipt of updated maps, geofencing information, flight restrictions and software updates. Even without local data mode, DJI insisted that the company does not have access to flight logs, photos or videos unless users specifically share them by syncing with DJI servers — or giving their drone to DJI for service.
Local data mode will start rolling out in DJI apps including DJI Go, DJI XT Pro, DJI Pilot and Ground Station Pro “starting in the next several weeks,” the company said.
Earlier this month, DJI shipped a firmware update that shut down a technique for modding drones to ignore some geofencing restrictions, which could allow drones to operate in no-fly zones, the company said.